When Janis opens her eyes, the cold grass under her feet is the first thing she feels and the tree is the first thing she sees. The big gum tree which she named with her own name, which is the name Janis, ‘cos it’s what feels most like herself when she puts her hand flat on its bark and feels its hum.
The way she first opens her eyes from sleep and doesn’t even know what she’s looking at – she reckons maybe this is what Bertie is like when he stares at a piece of light on the wall. It’s a bit scary sometimes waking up and looking at things that are like big fat gobbledegook, like the time she woke up staring at the picture on the cereal box in the pantry and somehow it looked like a scary monster until it shrunk down to being a dumb old box of cereal again with a stupid illustration of a dumb cartoon man made out of cereal.
The next thing she sees when she wakes up is the chairs from her party that they hired from the man with the teeth. The chairs look smaller in the darklight than they did in the lightlight. Maybe they are secretly baby chairs who play in the darklight and then, when the sun comes up, they pop up to adult size to be boring. It would be cool if in the darklight they not only shrunk but also grew wings like in that old book Nanny read to her. Then she could go on adventures while everyone is asleep and not tell anyone.
Darklight is weird, ‘cos other things are looking bigger, like Janis. Her trunk and leaves, the shapes of the chairs and the grass that they water with grey water, none of them have the colours they have in the lightlight except for Janis’s trunk, which is grey in the darklight as well as the lightlight. Tonight, the green grass is joining in playing at being grey too. It’s all silvery (which is another type of grey), and it’s shining from the moon lighting up the frost.
Before, in the lightlight when it was her party, she sat under Janis by herself for a bit to eat her cake, ‘cos too many people were talking at once. That chair is now facing away looking at the dairy paddock. Shes got a name for the paddock too. It’s Tor. But that bit of information is just between her and the paddock.
There’s another chair under Janis that Daddy sat on when he saw her sitting under Janis eating cake, and then he came and sat under Janis too and ate his own piece of cake. The cake was chocolate with cream and chocolate icing. A bit of cake fell on Daddy’s chest, and he lowered his head like a cow and reached out his tongue like a goanna, and darted the piece into his mouth. Except Daddy’s tongue isn’t forked.
Goannas don’t live in other countries, only in Australia. Gum trees live in other countries though, like California, ‘cos people liked them and put them on boats to the other side of the world. Here, in the southern hemisphere where Janis lives and Janis also lives, the sun tilts to the north in winter, like in approximately three months. In the northern hemisphere the sun tilts to the south in winter. Janis learned all this from looking at stuff on the internet.
The moon’s big and fat in the sky, which is blue in the lightlight but is usually darklight black except when that fat moon shines so she can see fog hanging in the air. The fog is sort of the same but different from the frost that’s freezing up her foots and which she reckons she could hear scrunching under her feet if she bent her head right to the ground. She tries it out, but she can’t hear anything. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening though. Maybe it’s just too quiet to hear, the way like maybe she could hear trees speak in Tree if she had mega ears, like the amplifiers at the concert she went to with Daddy.
When Janis opened her eyes and saw those shapes that ended up being Janis and grass and chairs, it felt like they were written in a different language, like Indonesian. Her dreams feel like a different language too. There have been many languages going on tonight, one after the other, just in the space of an hour. First she was dreaming, then she woke up and couldn’t work out what things were, then she worked out that she was in the darklight and that’s another different language. In the darklight, she can read things that the lightlight hides.
Janis isn’t sure she’s going to be able to go back to sleep now she’s been in so many different languages. That means she’ll be tired for school and she’ll be in the behaviour where she’s losing it, and Mummy will sigh. But that’s later. This Is Now.
The cold’s stealing up her legs like in that movie when winter came. Janis is glad she sleepwalked in her nightgown ‘cos it’s long, billowy and white. It makes her feel like she’s a girl living in the 19th century (which was actually the 1800s, like how now is the 21st century even though it’s the 2000s).
Her nightgown makes her feel like she’s that girl in The Secret Garden, which she and Nanny read when Nanny stayed at Christmastime. And then Nanny made her this nightgown – she whipped it up – and it’s much better to be wearing than pyjamas when she wakes up sleepwalking in the darklight and the moon’s shining and everyone’s inside sleeping in their separate beds. Except Mum and Dad, ’cause they sleep in a bed together, which is called queen size.
You’re a funny little thing, Nanny had said in her warm voice when Janis said she wanted a nightgown like Mary in The Secret Garden, but Janis wasn’t sure what was funny about that.
Now her feet are getting very cold. She knows Tor is ahead of her in the dark, with his buildings that are for the cows, but he’s too far away to see. There could be yukky things in the dark beyond the moonlight, but it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe ghosts, but they can’t hurt her, only scare her; and she could pretend she’s a ghost in her nightgown and scare them back.
If she turns her head to the right there’ll be the clump of trees standing alongside the driveway, and then the chia paddock, and there’ll be lots of places for a bad man to hide to come and stab her even on a moonlight night, but Janis doesn’t really think anyone’s there ‘cos all she can feel are trees and driveway and chia bushes, and foxes and roos and stuff. Maybe some of the Other Ones are there, but they’re ghosts and none of them will hurt her, even though they’re sad and angry ‘cos they died bad.
Janis yawns loudly with her mouth but not her voice ‘cos she doesnt want Mummy and Daddy to hear her and tell her to go back to bed. Although when she thinks about it, bed seems like a nice place to be, with socks in her drawer for her feet and her doona warm. And she needs a wee. She could wee outside, like she does sometimes when she doesn’t want to stop playing, when nobody will see her and yell at her to use the toilet like a civilised person. But it’s not weeing-outside weather like in summer. If she did wee outside now it might run down her leg, or go on her nightgown, and the thought of both makes her teeth chatter.
Yesterday Janis said something about going for a wee-wee to Mummy which was a baby language joke, but Mummy just said she is too old to talk like that now because boring. Adults don’t like talking about wee and poo, even though they do both, even Beyonce and the Queen.
This now is like her darklight birthday party. This is her birthday with herself even though its past midnight and not really her birthday anymore. At her party yesterday a man put his hand underneath a big piece of material and fiddled around and when he pulled the material away the big round ball that looked like a marble had disappeared. It was cool ‘cos the ball was heavy and there wasn’t any way he could hide it up his sleeve, but Janis knew that there was some simple explanation. ‘Cos it wasn’t really magic, it was just tricks.
Janis thinks when she is an adult who lives in her own house and washes her own clothes that she’ll have two birthday parties and both will be in the darklight. The first one she will only invite herself, on the day that she was born. Then she will have a party where six people come. It will start at midnight, and be on a full moon, and will be lit only by birthday cake candles and darklight.
There’s a faint tinge to the edges of the sky, suggesting something good might be on Cartoon Network in an hour. Which is fun to think of but sad too ‘cos she’s tired. And it means the darklight’s going away for maybe 10 hours and the lightlight’s coming, where it’s too busy and noisy and there’s too many requests and too much to do and less to see that’s really interesting.
But the darklight will come around again. Which is something to do with living on a big ball that spins around. One of its sides is light when the other is dark, and then it swaps around, giving everyone a rest. The big ball sits out in the middle of nothing, balancing on air, twirling.
Mummy whispered to her, when they were talking about it one night when Janis couldn’t sleep, and Mummy’s belly was so fat that it looked like an earth. Mummy whispered that she finds it a bit scary how the earth ball twirls around in the middle of nowhere.
She held Mummy’s hand to try to show her that it was okay. Even really cool if you thought about it long enough. Mummy hugged her head and kissed the top of it where her part is. You’re a funny little thing, Mummy had whispered into the dark, with her belly full of Bertie before he came out. Which is exactly what Nanny said to her at Christmas. Janis realises, suddenly, that Nanny was Mummy’s mummy when she was a little girl like Janis is now. And maybe Mummy learned to say that, which Daddy said is called a phrase. Maybe Mummy learned it from her mummy.
And if Mummy learned it from her mummy, who is Nanny, then maybe one day, when Janis has grown up and makes her own spaghetti bolognaise and has a man living in her house and they sleep in a queen size bed, maybe they will have a baby and Janis will find herself saying, You’re a funny little thing one day. And then it will be what her teacher said is a tradition.
She’s not sure though that she wants to grow up and have a man in her queen size bed and have babies come out of her body ‘cos that all seems a bit weird and maybe she will just have three dogs instead and a man who lives in a different house.
But it’s hard to know what she’ll want to do when she’s grown up with boobs and like the hair Mummy has. If her body is so different she might want to put a baby in there, like the way she likes tomato now and when she was three it made her want to puke up her guts. Maybe she’ll have three dogs and three babies ‘cos she’ll be a grown up lady and not feel icky about people coming out of her noonie. And her dogs can have babies, and her babies can look after the dog babies, which are called puppies.
Janis smiles into the moonlit dark going pink at the edges. The dark can always be counted on to throw light on things.
© 2021 Sue Stevenson